History of The Model
The building which today houses the Model Arts and Niland Gallery has played many roles in the growth and development of Sligo, from its completion in 1863 to the present day. In many ways, No.22, The Mall, has reflected the changing nature of Sligo itself, from small market town to vibrant gateway city and cultural centre for the North West.
The original function of the building was to provide a venue for the new Model School and it was for this purpose that construction began in the 1850s. Architect, James H. Owen designed the building in an Italian-Romanesque style, with a central block and two wings. Perfectly sited, in an imposing south-facing position, the building stands fifteen feet above the roadway. The striking grandeur of the building was achieved by contrasting limestone blocks with pale Mount Charles sandstone ornamentation, and was further enhanced by the circular headed, deeply recessed windows. Internally the building provided residences for the teaching staff to the left-hand side, and bright and airy classrooms to the right. Local builders Keighron and sons executed the design, and the Model School opened its doors in 1863.
From the outset the Model School was a product of its time. The intention was that the school would provide a basic education for all denominations, working on the principle of combined secular, and separate religious instruction. However, Ireland of the 1860s was a deeply sectarian society, and Catholic bishops called on Roman Catholic families to boycott the new schools. Therefore, the Model School came to provide a predominantly Protestant education. A study of the roll at the end of 1888 shows that 296 boys were enrolled, this number comprised 163 Church of Ireland members, 34 Presbyterians, 83 other denominations, and 16 Roman Catholics. The average daily attendance was 158.
In the early years of the Free State, Church of Ireland children were joined by their Catholic counterparts. 1931 saw the allocation of two rooms to the Marist Brothers, and the foundation therein of St. Mary’s Catholic Boy’s School. Again the Model building reflected the nature of society around it, and the two schools did not always co-exist in peaceful harmony. On the contrary, reminiscences of past pupils inform us of a dividing wall in the playground, over which stones were cast with great intensity at break times. In 1972, the Marist Brothers amalgamated with St. John’s N.S., and in 1976 the Model School students moved across the Mall to the new Carbury National School. This was not quite the end of the building’s long association with primary school education as the Sligo School Project spent some years in the prefabricated buildings on the site during the 1990s.
The Model building always seems to have lent itself to the needs of the day, and has been used variously since the 1950s, to house offices for the Post Office, the Library, the Bovine Tuberculosis Eradication Scheme, the Department of Forestry and the Department of Agriculture. It was eventually left vacant in 1988 and remained so for two years.
The early 1990s saw the gradual emergence of a more affluent Ireland, and with it an increased interest in, and appreciation for the arts. It was not long before a growing community of artists and art patrons, saw the huge potential of the Model building as a much-needed venue for arts related events in the northwest. A public meeting saw the formation of a committee dedicated to the use of the building as a venue for the arts, thus the Model Arts Centre was born. Years of service to the community had, however, taken their toll on the model building. Stories abound concerning piano legs crashing through floorboards mid-performance and other similar mishaps. However through the energy and dedication of the Model Arts Committee the centre gained a reputation as a valuable space for exhibitions, which heretofore would not have been shown outside Dublin. Over time the centre’s brief was expanded to incorporate other art forms, particularly the performance arts, music and literature. In the late 1990s a decision was taken to renovate the Model Arts Centre and to incorporate within it a permanent home for the Niland Art Collection.